CHINA WATCHSuozzi, Smith Relaunch the Congressional Uyghur Caucus

Published 18 April 2024

In July 2021, Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) launched the bipartisan Congressional Uyghur Caucus to raise awareness of China’s systemic human rights violations against the Uyghur people and to support legislation aimed at addressing this coordinated human rights abuse. Suozzi decided not to run in 2022 for another term – but won the seat (NY-3) again in a special election in February this year. One of his first acts in Congress: Relaunching, with Smith, the Uyghur Caucus.

On Tuesday, 16 April, Representatives Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) announced the relaunch of the bipartisan Congressional Uyghur Caucus to raise awareness of the Chinese Community Party’s (CCP) “systemic human rights violations against the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and to support legislation aimed at addressing the largest coordinated human rights abuse campaign of the 21st century.”

Though the caucus, which was formed in July 2021, never disbanded, the activities of the bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers slowed to a trickle after its chair, Rep. Tom Suozzi decided not to run again for the seat in 2022.

At the announcement, Suozzi and Smith, who co-chair the Caucus, were joined by Rushan Abbas, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for Uyghurs.

“We just do not hear about the Uyghurs enough, and I am excited to come back to Congress to work with you to make sure that we let more people know what is happening,” he said at the Tuesday event.

The most urgent priority of the revamped caucus, Suozzi said, would be to more widely spread awareness of the plight of Uyghurs in China’s far-west, whom the U.S. government says are subject to an ongoing genocide and are often detained in forced-labor camps.

“We have to figure out how, as a team, can we make this part of the national conversation, and the global conversation?” Suozzi said on Tuesday. “There’s no question of the abuse. There’s no question about how horrific it is. There’s no question that it’s being done.”

“There’s no question it would rise to the level of the things that would most offend most people – if they were educated about it,” he added. “but we can’t get it to be part of everyday conversation.”

The Chinese Communist Party is believed to have detained up to two million Uyghurs and other Muslims in internment camps in Xinjiang, also known as East Turkestan or Uyghurestan, in the far northwestern part of the People’s Republic of China. 

“What’s happening to Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang should shock everyone’s conscience. As co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Uyghur Caucus, I will continue to stand up, call out, and push back against the Chinese Communist Party for its oppression and persecution of Uyghur Muslims,” said Suozzi. “The CCP is brutally and systemically trying to destroy the Uyghur people with mass internment camps, forced labor, sexual abuse, and forced sterilization. We cannot shy away from this. We must shine a light on these atrocities.”

Suozzi met last week with Rushan Abbas to discuss the need to re-energize the Caucus considering continuing abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China.

The original Caucus was founded in 2021 by Suozzi and Smith “to unite U.S. Congress Members committed to advocating for the human rights of the Uyghur people.”

“Every day reveals new horrors unfolding for Uyghurs in East Turkistan. This genocide demands a response that matches its depravity, and the Caucus shows promise of tangible policy actions to confront the horror. The leadership of Representatives Suozzi and Smith and their tireless advocacy for Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, and Southern Mongolians is a testament to their integrity and moral compass. We could not be more grateful,” said Rushan Abbas. 

Suozzi noted that throughout his years in Congress, he has been a consistent opponent of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China.

As a former member of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Suozzi used his position to “hold the Chinese Government accountable for its repression and active disregard for international law.”

In September 2020, Suozzi cosponsored the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which prohibits imports from China’s (Uyghur) Region (XUAR) unless Customs and Border Protection determines with “clear and convincing” evidence that forced labor was not used at any stage of its production.

“The United States must stand up for its values and make it clear that we will not be complicit in the internment and forced labor of Uyghur Muslims,” he said in Congress.

The proposal was eventually signed into law by President Joe Biden on 23 December 2021. Beginning on 21 June 2022, any company that imports goods from the Xinjiang region needs to certify that those goods were not produced using forced labor to avoid penalties.

“While the CCP claims that these prisons are for ‘reeducation’ or ‘poverty alleviation,’ clear evidence, as confirmed by the United Nations in 2022, shows that the program is a program to erase the Uyghur people and culture through forced labor, sexual abuse, forced sterilization, and attacks on religious beliefs,” explained Suozzi.